The day I fell asleep driving, and ‘died’ – Stuart B Hill, 7 July 2022
As I wake up in our unheated bedroom, which I had painted Wedgewood blue and cream, I’m remembering that I had said YES to the request from my smart (and attractive) past student to give a talk tonight on ecological agriculture to students and staff at the University of Sherbrooke, about two hours’ drive from Macdonald College.
It is snowing, and I’m wishing that I hadn’t said YES!
After breakfast of home-made yoghurt, muesli, and stewed fruit, I head out, in my down jacket and gloves, to dig out the car, and drive it to a park near my office, so I can leave straight after my last lecture.
I love teaching, and today my students are enthusiastic and curious as ever. But it has been a full-on day, and as I carry my slide-tray and handouts to the car I feel tired.
Getting onto Autoroute 10 to Sherbrooke was easy, but at 4.00 pm it is already getting dark, and it is still snowing.
I’m on my way, and I’m thinking about the challenge of speaking in English to a Francophone audience. My children, David and Dianne, are bilingual, but I am still nervous to speak in French.
My head nods a couple of times, and I know that I must stay awake and not fall asleep while driving. As I am thinking this, this is exactly what happens, and I awake suddenly as the car slams into the double back wheels of a large truck.
Everything is slowing down. I’m sure I am about to die. I feel, however, only overwhelming gratitude. I am glowing with unlimited appreciation. I say aloud “Life’s been so good”. I’m ready to die.
Suddenly the car is racing across the snow-covered median strip, and I can see traffic in the lane of the highway heading towards Montreal. I realise I am still alive – then, that I will crash into one of the oncoming cars – I say, again, “This is it” (this is the moment I will now die) – and almost immediately I think that I don’t want to kill anybody else – so, I grab the steering wheel and aim to miss all of the oncoming traffic. This is all happening so quickly – and also all in slow motion.
Then, as the car progresses across and leaves the road, I am aware that I am now heading right into an enormous rock face on the other side of the road. I say aloud, “So, this is it” (again, expecting to now die).
The Toyota slams full blast into the rockface, the front windscreen breaks – I know that I am next.
The seatbelt pulls tightly across my chest, as I am compressed against the steering wheel. I am amazed that I am still alive. I undo the seatbelt, get out of the car, and walk away from it, in case it is going to explode.
While I am standing there, amazed about the whole experience, an ambulance arrives, and two orderlies check me out and eventually strap me onto a stretcher, and transfer me into the ambulance.
I feel quite dazed; and amazed to be alive. A policeman, who had arrived after the ambulance, comes inside and insists that I get up and come with him. I am reluctant, but he is persistent. When I get out of the ambulance, I see him kneeling and praying (in French) in front of the rock wall, where the car has impacted – I can see an enormous heart, drawn in black on the rock.
This all seems like a continuation of the amazingness of the whole experience.
I am taken to the local hospital, and my son David eventually comes to collect me – the details after the accident are all now very vague.